Director of public affairs for Abta, Alan Wardle, on making a success for UK travel and tourism after the triggering of Article 50
As the UK begins to extricate itself from the European Union, we want to work with the government to help them make Brexit a success. We believe the benefits that UK holidaymakers currently enjoy, such as visa-free travel and the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) should be prioritised and protected. Travel and tourism is one of the UK’s largest industries and it is vital that the government makes sure it can continue to thrive during and after the negotiations.
The UK travel and tourism industry plays a hugely important role in the UK economy, contributing around nine per cent of total economic activity. The outbound travel industry alone contributes £28.3 billion a year to the UK economy and the EU is our main market for overseas travel, with 75 per cent of business and leisure trips taken there. The EU is also the main market for visitors to the UK. With this in mind, it is essential that the industry can continue to prosper post-Brexit and holidaymakers and business travellers can continue to travel freely and enjoy the important benefits currently open to them.
The cruise sector has more than 25 million passengers a year globally and the UK is one of its biggest markets. We have seen the industry grow over the last decade and it is important this upward trajectory is maintained after Brexit.
Following the triggering of Article 50, we have set out priorities for the Brexit negotiations in a new report, Making a Success of Brexit for Travel and Tourism. We have identified five immediate priority areas and we are calling on the government to act quickly as it enters the negotiation process, to preserve vital rights and protections for travel businesses and UK travellers alike.
Abta’s five priorities are:
1. Maintain our ability to travel freely within Europe and beyond
2. Keep visa-free travel between the UK and the EU
3. Protect valuable consumer rights
4. Give UK businesses operational stability
5. Seize opportunities for growth
Safeguarding transport links, including air routes, is vital, as the EU is the UK’s biggest market for overseas holidays and a critical market for businesses. Unlike for other industries there are no World Trade Organisation rules for aviation to fall back on if we do not reach a deal with the EU. Any change in access to air travel would have a serious impact on the cruise market, especially to the Mediterranean.
Abta consulted our cruise members about Brexit and the issues they were concerned about and one of the biggest was visa-free travel. Cruise companies and passengers have benefitted hugely from being able to travel freely across Europe. If additional passport checks or visa restrictions are created with Brexit, this will create additional pressures. In addition, if there is a hard border for freight at ports, this will have a knock-on effect on leisure traffic.
The UK’s membership of the EU has given travellers many highly beneficial rights and protections, including access to free or reduced cost healthcare via EHIC, which was used over 215,000 times in 2015 by UK citizens. Continued access to the EHIC card is particularly important for many cruise passengers who, because of their age, may be reliant on travel insurance policies that require use of an EHIC in order to access reduced premiums.
Compensation for delayed and cancelled flights and the EU Package Travel Directive, which protects people on package holidays, are also valuable consumer rights, which Abta urges the government to protect.
In addition to these priorities, we have also highlighted the importance to the industry of the UK’s membership of the EU Customs Union, and harmonised VAT arrangements. We recognise that each of these is inherently linked to a future UK-EU agreement, but we have issued a clear call for transitional arrangements, should the UK opt to leave without the settlement of a long-term trading agreement with our EU partners.
We know from our cruise members that having as much certainty as possible at a time when so much is unclear is important. Cruises are on sale up to 18 months in advance. Given these long lead-in times, we are calling on the government to ensure that effective transitional agreements with the EU are in place if needed. This will enable businesses to plan and to sell holidays with confidence.
At every opportunity in our discussions with politicians and other decision makers, Abta has outlined the important economic and employment contribution of the outbound travel industry to the UK. While there has naturally been much focus on the growth in domestic and inbound tourism, attributed by many to the fall in the value of the pound, Abta has spelled out the contrasting impact that currency fluctuations could have on outbound travel, both for holidaymakers and businesses alike. The fall of the pound against the dollar has been a particular issue for cruise companies. Outbound travel provides a boost of more than £11 billion each year to the UK economy, and our sector employs more than 214,000 people directly.
As we get closer to the beginning of negotiations, triggered under Article 50, Abta will continue to engage regularly with members, and we will work hard to ensure the government is fully aware of the industry’s requirements as a new relationship with Europe begins to take shape.